Highlighting the Borders with a smile

Galashiels film maker Mark Nicol
Galashiels film maker Mark Nicol

Galashiels supermarket manager Mark Nicol is a one-man tourist board for the Borders. His videos are informative, but his tongue remains firmly in his cheek. Kevin Janiak reports

From discovering hidden waterfalls to being terrorised by the Cauldshiels Water Bull, Mark Nicol has been enthusiastically bringing the Borders to life for four years.

While others have shown the beauty of the Borders, others have enlightened viewers on its rich history, and others still have made us laugh at ourselves, Mark’s irreverent looks at our region does all of that.

The 41-year-old’s on-screen persona is his USP ... and he has hundreds of followers on Facebook and You Tube who can’t wait to see what he has up his sleeve next.

Indeed, he is often stopped on the street by complete strangers, who tell him how much they enjoy his videos.

But where did it all start for the man who manages the Aldi store in Galashiels?

He said: “Four years ago, I was working in Tesco, and we had to put together a video project on our iphones.

“I was just stunned as to how easy it was to put a video together, and I decided to start doing some of my own.

“I soon upgraded to an ipad and now work on a laptop, and edit the videos using imovie. I’m getting better at it now ... it only takes me a couple of hourse to edit something that used to take me a couple of days.”

Mark insisted that he had never really shown much of an interest in history, until he began researching material for his videos.

He said one old drawing from the past really piqued his interest.

Mark explained: “I’ve always been interested in wildlife, but history has never really grabbed me.

“But I saw a picture on a website showing a drawbridge on the Tweed,

“I looked into it, doing a bit of digging, but couldn’t find anything about it, until I looked at a couple of obscure books, and found out that Sir Walter Scott had also looked for this bridge, but it had even been destroyed at the time of his life.

“He eventually found remains of the bridge when he was out salmon fishing, and it became central to his story ‘The Abbot’.

“The bridge keeper, who lived in the central column, is a character in the book.

“It was known as Pringle’s Brig.

“I eventually found where it was ... and it was in Bridge End, which is now called Lowwood, where I live.

“I really felt that I had uncovered something. Obviously I hadn’t, because the sources were there, but not in the public eye.

“Here was a drawbridge in Galashiels, and nobody really knew anything about it. So I looked into more hidden stuff, such as hidden cemeteries in Torwoodlee and Bridge Street, and found out Galashiels had the first suspension bridge in the UK, near B&Q.

“I then branched out into the wider Borders.”

He said he is not trying to lecture anyone, more trying to entertain.

He added: “That’s why I’m keeping it fairly light, and putting in some comedic narrative. I have no education in history, it’s almost like I’m finding the things out with them.”

In total views, Mark’s videos have been watched around 240,000 times.

He said: “About 20% of the views are from outside the UK ... mostly in America.”

While he tries to keep his films entertaining and many of his lines are said with his tongue firmly in his cheek, there is no masking his sincere love of the Borders countryside.

And as his videos become more popular, it gives him further knowledge as people tell him what he’s missed.

One of his recent videos had him searching the area for waterfalls.

In the video, he says: “I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how to promote tourism in the Scottish Borders and what could I make a film about that could help.

“And I was thinking about my mate Davie, his brother-in-law from Kelsae, he went to Niagara Falls. He said it was really guid like, really guid.

“And I started thinking about my own holiday in Cyprus and how there is this huge tourist industry built up around waterfalls.

“So I thought, that’s it. I’m going to make a video about waterfalls in the Scottish Borders.

“But then, I’ve got a problem, I don’t think there are any.”

He’s next seen by the former Skinworks cauld in Galashiels – but that is discounted as a “post-industrialised urban riverscape”.

The majestic Grey Mare’s Tail is next, but that is ruled out due to the fact that it lies two miles over the border into Dumfries and Galloway.

He is then suitably impressed at the waterfall in the gardens at Wilton Lodge Park in Hawick.

But, he says: “I’m looking for something a bit bigger, a bit more dramatic ... something we can tell all our friends about.”

Then, he finds what he is looking for near Stichill.

He says: “I really can’t understand why this place is not given more publicity.

“It really is awe-inspiring and I can see why artists have been inspired by it. I can see why poets write about the place.

“And I’m the only person here. People flock to look at waterfalls all over the world, and this is probably one of the most beautiful I’ve seen.

“I had trouble finding it.

“We need to promote the area, but we keep these hidden gems ... hidden.”

Mark said since he posted this video, he has had several people telling him about other waterfalls in the area – such as Craik Forest, Corbie Lynn and . So another video may be in the offering.

But he is not about to run out of things to film.

He told us: “I have loads of ideas on the go.

“Up north of Peebles, there is a huge unused railway tunnel. It’s not a story on its own, so I am trying to work out what to do with it.”

Actually, since we talked to Mark, he has gone and videoed the tunnel, and based it round a homage to a fictional uncle.

‘Tunneling Tommy The Teviotdale Tiger’ tells the tale of his uncle Tommy, who went into the tunnel years ago, never to be seen again.

We won’t spoil it for you ... it’s best you see it for yourself ... but it is safe to say that it is indicative of Mark’s ability to have a laugh with his viewers while still providing insight into hidden parts of our region.

Other films include looking at the Borders under the Romans, the Lowland Clearances, famine in the area between 1694-1697, Knights Templar and the Linton Worm – another subject which also attracted the eye of Sir Walter Scott.

In his videos, he works with his friend Stuart Wilson, who looks after the technical side and is building the www.discoverscottishborders.com website.

Check out their You Tube channel www.youtube.com/channel/UCljyr69S3ivJchdGrfJBqoA